Posts Tagged ‘smoke’

City Life

May 10, 2013

As I was looking for scenes from Guinea, I rummaged through my computer files and came across something I wrote in January. I am not sure whether it will find its way into another publication and so I have found the perfect place for it. Here. 

It had already happened when I walked past. A little girl in a dirty light blue dress was standing between two carelessly parked cars and weeping. A boy who had been pushing an elderly woman in a wheelchair was standing next to the girl. He was wiping her tears and cleaning her face with water; then he went back to pushing the chair. The traffic on the Corniche raged on right next to that little scene. Anarchic, stop-start movement, angry car horns, shouts, exhaust fumes. Just like yesterday and exactly like tomorrow. He kept pushing the wheelchair, passing the cars, begging for money.

The girl stayed where she was, dabbing her eyes with the hem of her dress. But the tears kept coming. She pulled herself together in the end and started walking, cheap plastic slippers on her feet, spindly legs, on her way…home I was hoping. Would be difficult to imagine this little bundle of fragility sleeping rough. But this is Conakry, a city that has been allowed to fall to abnormal levels of dysfunctionality.

But then I saw her walking past the boy who had been wiping her tears and realized that in a place where pretty much nothing works for you a tiny sign of human kindness is in fact the only thing that will probably keep you going. Repeat a hundred times all over town, every day, and you get something approaching a bearable life.

Well, no. You need other things. Light in your house, light on your street, bureaucrats who respect your rights as a citizen, police officers who catch criminals and don’t steal your money, water in your home, a judiciary where you get justice even when you don’t have friends there, a boss who regards his workers as people. This city has very little of any of those.

So here’s a tribute to the more than two million Conakryka who have to live with the consequences of half a century of catastrophic governance…and still find it possible to offer consolation to a sad little girl in a dirty blue dress.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

(Another example of non-protection: manual boat dismantling next to the port. The men working here will not geld old.)

The city, the sky…no lights!

March 31, 2010

Dakar power cut

First acquisition upon arrival here: a largish, battery-powered lamp. Made in China, of course. The reputation of the national electricity utility, Senelec, has plummeted even further with more power cuts than ever. Three times a day for hours on end, it’s now common. One of the Senelec offices is right across the street; expect windows to be smashed soon – once again. It’s not the engineers trying to keep an obsolete system going; it’s the management, political appointees with no interest in the company. So once again….

home, last night

Still, there’s plenty of sun to compensate for the lack of artificial light, one would think. And yes, there is. Dakar’s warming up nicely. But this is how the sky ordinarily looks towards sunset…

From my window, between 6 and 7pm

Pollution has one advantage, a former geography teacher used to say, beautiful sunsets…

Fumes, smoke, sand and dust: the air we breathe. And it’s a spectacle. Dakar has some 2.5m inhabitants; this is projected to increase to 4.7m in some 20 years’ time. The future is clear (or should that be murky): more power cuts and more of this:

Skies over Yoff

The air we breathe

December 17, 2009

Alright, for once a domestic topic and an important one. When you return to your flat here, after two weeks of travelling, you’ll find the smooth shiny stone floor you left behind covered in a layer of…well, what is it?

Dust? Certainly.

Sand. Yep.

But the black stuff that clings to your broom like glue? Soot – more like. Get it off the floor and then go after the remainder with water and cloth. Honestly, I’m doing more housekeeping work here in a single day than in Amsterdam in, say, one week…….

And I really need to stop smoking, if for one reason alone: it’s entirely superfluous. One day in Dakar (or anywhere else in urban Africa for that matter) and you will be subjected to sand and dust and smoke and soot coming from:

burning rubbish (cardboard, paper, organic waste – and plastic, which reigns supreme);

ancient cars, lorries, buses, minivans and pickup trucks that leave smoking trails that would be the eternal envy of our cigar puffing grandfathers;

the sweeping of streets and courts, which means moving gazillions of nose-blocking particles from one place to another;

open wood fires for grilling meat and preparing other meals (one local favourite is “dibi”, basically a pile of grilled beef of mutton or goat’s meat served on a piece of greasy paper with copious amounts of pepper – an acquired taste);

fumes from businesses that work out in the open, like welding, repair shops, car maintenance, furniture production, tyre retreading, you name it;

I’m sure I am forgetting things but you get the drift. So gather up yet another thick thread of this soot-laden dust and toss it in a plastic (yep!) bag to take outside for the rubbish collector and think: ‘I’m also breathing this in….’ Yes, you are and so are your neighbours and so, in a manner of speaking, is every electrical appliance in the house, including your laptop.

(Wonder who will conk out first, my MacBook or me…)

Air quality. Or rather: its complete absence. It’s a problem in every single African city. You really have no idea how bad it is until you leave for a less urbanised area and are amazed at the quality of the air. (That’s apart from the indoor cooking – again on wood fires – yet another story.)

There are no quick fixes here. You can think of solar powered ovens. You can think of cleaner cars. Four years ago, the Senegalese government banned the importation of cars over 5 years old and while there are still plenty of clapped-out taxis on the streets the situation has definitely improved. You can think of better public transport. Bamako is the first city I know of (in this region) that’s having a think about a tramway – I guess their biggest headache will be finding a place to put it…

And it will definitely get worse. Soon we’ll have dozens of cities of a million plus, Lagos and Kinshasa being by far the largest with 16 million each, according to a Jeune Afrique special on African urbanisation recently. Luanda will have 8 million in 2025; Abidjan, Addis Ababa and Nairobi will have 6 million each. And Dakar? 4 million plus. That’s twice its current size.

Whenever I take a flight out of these places (like Yaoundé – 2 million – yesterday) I never cease to be amazed at the thick layer of black sky that hangs suspended over the entire place. You can only see that clearly as the plane takes off. And there it is, the same thought: ‘I’ve been breathing this in…’ And another one: ‘The folks down there are still breathing this in….’